When in Doubt, Use Fewer Words: The Power of the Visual

Design is an area that’s often weak for marketers, especially in the publishing world. There’s this myth floating around in too many authors’ heads that words matter more than pictures (a belief which makes sense in a word-dominated industry, I guess), but it’s a dangerous understanding of content marketing.

Because it’s wrong.

In marketing, words matter. But the visual matters more.

A piece of content is only as a strong as its visual elements. If a consumer’s eye is pulled in by spacing and font and images–and when the entire piece is aesthetically appealing–only then will they choose to stick around long enough to read the words.

The truth is that 65% of us learn visually, and in general, 90% of information transmitted to the brain is visual. Combine that data with today’s increasingly short attention spans and the endless stream of promotional stimulation coming at us, and you realize that effective marketing must be visually-focused in order to grab and hold attention.

I’ve been interviewing graphic designers over the past few months, and I always ask in an interview, “What is the role of graphic design in marketing?” And the answer I’m looking for: “Good marketing is good design.” It’s that simple.

Good marketing is good design. Click To Tweet

So, you’re wondering what graphic-heavy, text-light marketing looks like? Here are some best-practice ideas.

Put relevant, colorful images on your blogs and in your emails.

Content with relevant images gets 94% more views than content without relevant images. (Below image credit: QuickSprout). Note the word “relevant” here. You can’t just slap any old graphic on your blog and assume it will do the work. The effectiveness happens when the image strategically complements the piece and explains what’s happening with the words.

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Additionally, researchers found that colored visuals increase people’s willingness to read a piece of content by 80%. If you’re putting all that effort into carefully crafted blogs and emails, ensure they get read by building a graphic designer into the content process.

Kristine Carlson, author of the Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff series, is an example of an author and blogger who uses imagery in her weekly blog content. The growth she’s seen in her engagement and readership has been massive.

Use photography on all websites and platforms.

I have always been a huge fan of lifestyle photography. It’s a powerful way to engage the human mind through “real life” images that can spark imagination and paint transformation. Top marketers use it often. In fact, 46% of marketers say photography is critical to their current marketing and storytelling strategies. (Below image credit: CMO Council).

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Especially on social media, photographs yield higher levels of engagement than any other type of visual or multimedia. There’s a reason that Instagram is winning the social media game right now with rapid growth. In Fall 2015, it hit a major milestone of more than 400 million users!

The website for Judah Smith’s book Life Is ___ is an awesome example of lifestyle photography built into a marketing setting. We used similar images for Judah’s social media during book launch, and it was super effective.

Build visuals into your social media strategy.

While photography is extra powerful on social media, as noted above, so are all graphic elements. As you build out a social media process and strategy, prioritize the visual. Graphics-based content is 40x more likely to be shared than any other kind of content.

Buffer (a social media scheduling tool) reported that for its users, tweets with images received 150% more retweets than tweets without images.  (Below image credit: QuickSprout).

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Equally powerful stats stand true for Facebook sharing. In fact, Facebook posts with images experience 2.3x more engagement than those without. (Below image credit: BuzzSumo).
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Check out my Facebook page for examples of how our agency has used visuals on social media. Part of our weekly content process is creating quote images, Facebook blog images, etc. It’s been a huge engagement builder.

So, the proof is in the pudding. Marketing research shows it’s critical to focus on visuals over words.

But you might be thinking that feels like too much. I hear authors tell me all the time that building visuals for each piece of their content marketing is overwhelming. And I understand. If you’re a one-(wo)man team, it can feel like a lot of work.

I encourage you to pursue it anyway. Your words will gain much higher readership and engagement through emphasis on graphics. It’s worth it!

And in fact, if you’re feeling like your bandwidth or budget is too tight and you’re trying to decide between hours/dollars on copywriting or hours/dollars on design, go with design. It matters. If the graphics aren’t awesome, the words will rarely be read.

Start with a graphic designer who can give you just a few hours per week of his/her time. Build out a blog schedule a few weeks in advance so that you give the designer ample time to know what your upcoming blog titles are, and then simply roll out a system in which he/she builds out the necessary graphics weekly. You’ll probably need a blog header, an email header, and social media (Twitter and Facebook) at the very least.

Start small, start there. You’ll be amazed at the difference it makes.